Nick Saban's retirement from Alabama big win for Ohio State football recruiting | Oller (2024)

rob oller, columbus dispatch

·4 min read

Math isn’t my thing. Ask my editors. And former editors. It’s not a new problem. But I am decent enough with numbers to know that Ohio State is benefiting from addition by subtraction. As in, OSU minus Nick Saban is a positive.

Among the biggest changes affecting college football, at least in the short term, is the January retirement of the Alabama coach who led the Crimson Tide to six national championships. Revenue sharing, NIL and the transfer portal will have a greater lasting impact, but more immediately for Ohio State and other perennial top-10 programs, Saban’s departure has been the gift that keeps on giving.

Consider that before January, the last Alabama-born player on the Ohio State roster was walk-on wide receiver Willie Salter in 2001. The last OSU scholarship player from the Yellowhammer State was Donte Wheat, way back in 1981.

Alabama center Seth McLaughlin, born in Georgia, transferred to OSU Jan. 6. Maybe he suspected something was up? Then Alabama native Quinshon Judkins announced his transfer from Ole Miss to the Buckeyes Jan. 8, two days before Saban retired.

Once Saban made his intentions known, Ohio State almost immediately became the destination of choice for two other Alabama players − freshman safety Caleb Downs from Georgia and five-star quarterback signee Justin Sayin out of California.

It didn’t end there. Na’eem Offord, a five-star cornerback recruit out of Birmingham, committed to Ohio State in early February. On Monday, the Buckeyes received a commitment from four-star defensive end Zion Grady, out of Enterprise, both players further boosting the nation’s No. 1 class for 2025.

What in the name of Bear Bryant is going on? Simple. Saban’s departure created a vacuum that Ohio State was only too happy to fill by sweeping up Alabama recruits looking for more of a sure thing than the Tide could offer.

Saban turned Alabama into a championship program. It is unknown whether new coach Kalen DeBoer will be able to continue Saban’s elite level of success, so instead of sticking around to find out, Downs, Sayin, Offord and Grady chose more certainty. They could have picked Georgia, of course, but liked what the Buckeyes had to offer, presumably both the program and in the piggy bank. NIL deals are not disclosed, but it’s safe to say Ohio State’s enticements were at least in the same neighborhood as what other schools offered.

Saban’s exit did more than force Alabama players to consider their options. Other schools, especially outside the deep south, immediately saw a parting of the Crimson sea where before there was little chance of prying Alabama kids from Saban’s grasp.

As Offord’s father, Kaorie, explained to our Colin Gay, “Ohio State doesn’t come to Alabama often and offer kids. It’s one thing because they think, ‘Oh yeah, they are not going to leave Alabama.’ When Saban was there, they for sure thought that all the top guys in Alabama, Saban’s not going to let it out.”

Nick Saban's retirement from Alabama big win for Ohio State football recruiting | Oller (2)

He’s not wrong. Ohio State has recruited exceptionally well in Florida and Texas the past three decades, and more recently has pulled top-shelf talent out of Georgia – 17% of the 2024 roster hails from those three states – but has landed only three scholarship players born or raised in Louisiana since 2008, one from Mississippi since 1990 and, prior to Saban’s retirement, one from Alabama since 1981.

Nearly half (57) of the Crimson Tide’s 2023 roster, meanwhile, hailed from Alabama, while five were from Louisiana and three from Mississippi. It would be huge for Ohio State to chip away at Bama’s recruiting stronghold in those three states, considering that Louisiana (15), Mississippi (14.5) and Alabama (12.7) lead the nation in producing NFL talent per million residents, according to SportsReference.com.

The challenge for Ohio State is to make its southern recruiting count. It’s one thing to snatch talent from the bayou and gulf shores, but you need to win titles to keep that pipeline up and running. You also need to make Columbus feel as much like southern comfort as possible, which is not always easy when temperatures hit 30 degrees in the fall. But the more southern players you can sign, the more the “brotherhood” can expand its tent pegs to be even more inclusive of cultural differences.

Change is inevitable, as we are seeing across the college football landscape. Coaching moves are, too. Ohio State is taking advantage of Saban’s departure. It will be interesting to watch how Alabama responds. Sometimes you don’t need to slay the giant. Just wait until he gets too old to crush you.

roller@dispatch.com

@rollerCD

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This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Ohio State football benefits from Nick Saban's Alabama retirement

Nick Saban's retirement from Alabama big win for Ohio State football recruiting | Oller (2024)
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